I departed from Dallas with Raoul on a Friday afternoon, heading for Oklahoma and Fort Sill, a place I was sure I’d never return to once I left. And yet, there I was… The trip was uneventful. It was about a three hour drive from Dallas to Lawton. I talked a lots; about my life since leaving the Army, and how I was seriously thinking about staying in Dallas and not returning to Minnesota, ever. Raoul drove and listened.
Raoul could not get over my appearance. I did look a lots different–long haired afro and a beard. He couldn’t wait to show me off to the few people on base that still knew me. There weren’t many left.
Fort Sill didn’t look any different to me. The buildings were still familiar to my memory, and somehow foreign at the same time. It was an odd sensation. The Dental barracks wasn’t any different. It was a bland two story wooden building, ten rooms on each floor.
It was a full house of twenty guys when I lived there back in 1975. There were maybe an half a dozen guys living there in 1978. Raoul’s room was at the far end of hallway from the main entrance on the first floor. He was the sole occupant on that end of the building. Everyone else was living in the rooms nearest the main entrance on either the first or second floor.
There were a couple guys I knew living in the barracks, but I can’t remember their names. They were FNG’s about the time I left, and I didn’t spend much time getting to know them, but they welcomed me back as if we had been friends forever. They couldn’t get over my appearance either.
Everyone wanted to know what it was like being a civilian. It’s weird how the military brainwashes you into thinking you won’t survive once you get out. I assured them I had readjusted to civilian life, and they would, too. We sat in the dayroom, drinking beer, reminiscing about the past, waxing philosophic about the future. Every guy in that room looking at me had one similar thought: I am totally doing that when I get out of the fuckin’ Army!
After about an hour of talking to the guys, Raoul announced we had stuff to do. We headed down the hall to his room. He made a couple quick phone calls, and we waited for his mystery guests to arrive. He wouldn’t tell me whom he had called, but whomever he had called were on the way over. While we waited, he showed me the room he had set up for me.
The rooms in the barracks were identical, but you could decorate your room any way you chose, within reason. I had to change my design at least once because the Army didn’t approve. I recognized the carpeting in Raoul’s room. It had once been mine. Some of the posters in his room had also once been mine. I didn’t take much with me when I was discharged. Raoul had a couple of lounge chairs and lamps, and a pretty big console TV in his living area. A bookcase was centered in the passage between the living room and the bedroom. It was very cozy.
Each room had a living area and a sleeping area separated by a partition wall. There was a single bed and a sink in the sleeping area, and a shared bathroom between the the adjoining rooms. The bathroom had a toilet and a shower. My room was on the other side of Raoul’s bathroom. The only thing in it was a bed, and a side table, but the bed was made.
“Thanks for going all out for me.” I said.
“You’re not moving in! You’re only going to sleep here, if you get any sleep this weekend!”
“But I like what you did with my stuff.”
“We raped your room ten seconds after you left. I had to pull rank on the FNG’s to get the stuff I have. Part of you is in every occupied room in the barracks.”
I did have a pretty cool room, back in the day. I can’t remember if we went to look at it or not. We might have. Raoul had keys to all the rooms. I know my room was unoccupied, it was the third room from the stairway on the right on the second floor. Only the first two rooms on either side of the hallway were occupied on the second floor.
He opened the drawer of the bedside table in the room he had set up for me. There were six condoms inside.
“You never know when those will come in handy.”
I can’t remember if Raoul had been a Boy Scout or not, but he had been in the Army for a very long time. He was prepared for anything. If the Russians had ever attacked Fort Sill, Raoul would’ve been ready. He probably had a tank hidden under his bed.
We heard loud footsteps, and laughing and shrieking in hallway. Raoul smiled.
“Amigo, the putas are here!”
Puta is Spanish slang for slut, or whore. The putas Raoul was referring to were three WAC’s from my Army days. They were possibly the only three WAC’s left on base that knew me. And they had primed themselves for my party by drinking a lots of beers before they arrived.
Gloria, LaVerne and Shelly.
Gloria was recently divorced. She had been unhappily married when I knew her, and she generally looked miserable. She didn’t look miserable anymore! She had long, light brown hair, pale blue eyes framed by oval wire rimmed glasses, and she had lost at least fifty pounds. She was short and sleek. She looked great!
“Marky! Is that you?!? OhmyGod!” She ran to hug me.
“Oh. My. God.” LaVerne said from the doorway. She was a light skinned African American. We had the same hair. She broke into a grin and pushed Gloria out of my arms.
“Jesus Christ, Rowen. Is that you?!?!” Shelly said as she walked in. “I didn’t think you could get any uglier… Actually, all that hair hides your ugliness.”
“Good to see you, too, Shelly.”
Shelly was a lesbian. She was my height, short, dark brown hair and eyes. She was an hot little package, and I had had the hots for her back when I was in the Army, but I didn’t have a vagina, so… I was surprised to see her. She was pretty much the last person I expected to see. Back when we had our Get to Know You party at the barracks that the FNG’s had organized to meet the WAC’s, Shelly didn’t come. I would learn she had recently broken up with her girlfriend, so she had nothing better to do. She looked great, too.
“Man, I can’t get over the new you!” Shelly said, running her fingers over my afro, then all the girls were touching my hair and my beard.
“Hey, what about me?” Raoul said.
Gloria and LaVerne giggled and started messing up his hair. But Shelly stared at me is if I were a creature she had never seen before. And then she kissed me. And I kissed her back.
* * * *
I woke up the next morning looking at the bottom of the bedframe to my left. I was laying on a mattress on the floor. The mattress that had been on the bed was missing. It was probably the mattress I had been sleeping on, but I couldn’t figure out why I had taken it off the bed. Or why I was naked.
I rolled to my right, and rolled into Shelly. We were laying on two mattresses on the floor that had been placed next to each other to make one larger bed. And I wasn’t the only person that was naked. Shelly opened her eyes and giggled softly.
“Hi.” she whispered.
“Hi!” I replied, surprised. “Excuse me, but I have to pee.”
“Warm up the seat for me, please?”
“Sit down, and warm up the seat for me, okay?” She smiled and kissed the tip of my nose.
“Oh, okay.”I said, once I understood what she wanted. I found my glasses and stumbled to the bathroom. Shelly giggled softly again. She had a really cute…giggle. I had gotten a glimpse of her body under the blankets when I got up. Shelly was cute all over.
I sat down–the toilet seat was cold, and peed. And I tried to put the pieces of the previous night together. I flushed the toilet and peered into Raoul’s room. Mattresses covered his floor too, and sprawled across the mattresses were Gloria, Raoul and LaVerne, in that order. They were sleeping in a heap. Clothing was strewn everywhere. And I think Raoul had a pair of panties on his head. Probably Gloria’s.
Shelly rushed into the bathroom, wrapped in a sheet. She lifted it above her waist as she sat down. I left so she could have some privacy, still trying to remember what got happened. I couldn’t remember much.
We had been drinking beer and smoking joints and cigarettes in Raoul’s room, listening to music, dancing, laughing. And kissing. There was a lots of hugging and kissing going on. I think I even kissed Raoul… I sort of remembered that.
“Hi!” Shelly whispered, rushing back to bed and diving under the blankets. “I’m freezing!”
I was sitting on the edge of the box spring, staring at the sink.
“You look surprised.” Shelly said. I nodded, distractedly. “Actually, so am I. You’re first man I’ve ever slept with. Aren’t you cold?” I guessed I probably was, even though the radiator was emanating a fair amount of heat, and climbed under the blankets with Shelly. She snuggled close to warm up. She felt very warm to me.
“I was your first?” I asked, trying to take that in.
“Uh-huh. I’ve always liked girls.”
“Yeah, me too. Does that make me a lesbian too?” Shelly laughed, her dark eyes twinkled brightly.
“I don’t know, but if you didn’t have that beard you could probably convince a lot of girls you were one.”
“This is probably gonna sound a little weird, but how was it, your first time with a guy?”
“This is probably gonna sound a little weird, but it was amazing!”
I had to smile to myself when I heard that. And then I had to make sure it would be an experience I’d remember.
* * * *
I had a lots of Saturday mornings like that, not the making love to a lesbian part. I’m pretty sure that only happened once. The trying to remember what happened the night before, and putting together the pieces of my life as they drifted into my consciousness part. I had way more of those experiences than one person should have had.
There’s probably more of my life that I have little or vague recollection of than I have total recall of. That was perhaps the most disconcerting part of the early stages of my sobriety. I started remembering stuff–random images popped into my head when I least needed them–but all I got was pieces, never the complete picture. I had no idea where that piece fit into the puzzle of my life; what came before, what followed. I was like unto an amnesia victim, maybe…
Raoul and his girls eventually woke up. Shelly and I listened to them moaning and groaning and laughing as they untangled themselves from the blankets and made their way to the bathroom.
I was feeling pretty damn good about myself. Shelly was so content she was absolutely glowing. That memory of her is forever filed in my Happy Box, and I know where to find it.
Raoul and I walked the girls out to their car. Gloria and LaVerne looked bleary-eyed and pale. But Shelly smiled and glowed, and blew me a kiss as they drove off. It was the last time I ever saw her.
* * * *
Raoul and I decided to take a booze cruise after cleaning up ourselves and Raoul’s room. Well, we didn’t do a lots of cleaning. We emptied the ashtrays, and policed empty beer cans. We left the mattresses on the floor, just in cases.
Raoul said the mattresses were my idea. It wasn’t safe for the girls to drive, as drunk as they were. There were a lots of empty rooms and available mattresses… And the girls were drunk enough to agree. Even Shelly.
We went to a little diner just off base for breakfast, bought a twelve pack at the store next to the diner for the road, and headed out to the range roads on base.
The range roads led out to the firing ranges on Fort Sill. There was a lots of artillery training at Fort Sill, and the ranges were where all the training took place. Artillery fire is incredibly loud, so the ranges were placed as far from civilization as possible by design. There was probably five thousand miles of paved roads crisscrossing the outlying areas around the base, leading out to the ranges.
I liked the range roads. They weren’t greatly travelled, and once you learned your way around, you could get almost anywhere quicker on them than driving the main surface streets. There were even unmanned gates you could use to get into Lawton.
I’m sure those are long gone…
There wasn’t much to see on the range roads. There are some very scenic places in Oklahoma, but not so much out on the ranges. The terrain was hilly, covered in scrub brush, weeds and wild flowers. The vegetation was mostly brown and dead that February, awaiting Spring, and rebirth.
I was feeling reborn that morning, and couldn’t stop smiling, no matter how much I tried. I was driving, Raoul wanted to kick back and relax. Also, my new appearance was incredibly distracting to him, and he glanced at me frequently, as if he was trying to figure out who I was.
We were driving on a road neither of us had ever been on before, and we had put a lots of miles on our cars traveling the range roads.
“You look real happy, amigo.” he said.
“No, I mean, really happy! What happened with you and the lesbiana last night.”
Some guys don’t kiss and tell. I’m not one of them, obviously. The only real problem was I had no clear memory of what actually happened the previous night.
“I looked in the drawer, amigo. Four condoms were missing. Four!” Raoul said.
“Yeah, well. I think we filled a couple of them with water and threw them at the Marines.”
“Yeah, right! You fucked that little girl four times! In one night! You’re a fucking machine!! You must have one of them bionic dicks or something, amigo!”
Yeah, I’m still not sure about that, but I had noticed something while I was taking a shower. My groin was sore, and tender. And my penis was bruised. It was actually black and blue! I did tell Raoul about that. I may have even showed him my battered penis later…
I think Shelly had tried to kill me. That last erotic wrestling match in the morning was almost more pain than pleasure.
“Me? What about you! You banged two girls! You, are the true fucking machine!” I countered.
We laughed a lots, and drank a toast to our penises, those brave little soldiers. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a sign that said, BUMP. I looked down the road, but couldn’t see anything that looked like a bump. And then the road… disappeared.
Seriously, it just vanished. The car fell into a pit about ten feet deep. The sides had a slight slope, and possibly looked something like unto this:
We flew through the air like stuntmen in a movie. We might have even been screaming. The car ricocheted heavily off the bottom of the pit, then bounced up the other side, and we were back on the road again. I hit the brakes and swiftly came to a stop.
“Whatever you do, don’t turn off the car!” Raoul’s voice said. I couldn’t see him. He was sprawled upside down on the floor. In the backseat. Spilled beer drenched the interior of the car. Raoul and I were soaked in beer.
“What the fuck was that?!?” we both shouted, and got out of the car to check it out.
I tried to find a dry spot on my shirt to clear the beer off my lenses so I could see again. The “bump” we had hit was a trench roughly ten feet deep, and maybe twenty feet wide. Raoul figured it was used to teach guys how to drive tanks.
I marvel about that event to this day because we probably should’ve gotten dead that day. And if we hadn’t been so incredibly lucky, we would have been. If we had been moving any slower, we would’ve fallen into the trench with no hope of ever getting out because we weren’t driving a tank. We would’ve been stuck there until someone came along. For all I know, we could be there still. If we had been moving any faster, we would’ve crashed headfirst into the far side of the trench and that would have killed us to death instantly. But we were moving at the perfect speed to bounce in and out of that deep sonuvabitchin’ crevasse without gotting dead.
We were stunned.
“My car!” Raoul said, and ran to look it over, swearing feverishly in Spanish as he ran. Another miracle! The car had sustained no external damage. We couldn’t even find any damage to the undercarriage!
We were so surprised and happy, there was only one thing to do. We popped open a couple of beers and drank another toast. While we were standing around in awe and wonder at our incredible good fortune, it started raining. We didn’t even care.
We laughed, and asked each other repeatedly, Are you okay? Did you get hurt? and laughed harder. Neither of us had so much as a scratch. We stood in the rain, letting it rinse the beer out of our hair and dilute the smell of beer in our clothes. When we were suitably wet, we climbed back into the car and turned the heat up.
Raoul drove. I don’t think he wanted me hitting any more bumps. And fortunately, there were no more bumps to hit. We found a gate, and headed for the nearest liquor store. What else do you do when you don’t got dead? We kept the car running until we got back to the barracks, just in cases. It started right up again. Yep, that was a miracle for sure.
We changed into dry clothes. I did some laundry, there was a washer and dryer at the barracks. We drank beer and smoked until we fell asleep watching TV, some black and white movie from the 1930’s or 40’s. Then eventually crawled to the mattresses on the floor and slept until Sunday morning.
* * * *
Well I woke up Sunday mornin’, with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more, for dessert
Then I fumbled through my closet, for my clothes and found my cleanest dirty shirt
And I shaved my face and combed my hair and, stumbled down the stairs to meet the day
Thank you, Kris Kristofferson.
That’s how I felt that Sunday morning, February 25, 1979. I’m not sure you could call this blessed, but I rarely had serious hangovers back during my drinking days. I might have an headache, but I rarely vomited.
I think I did have a beer for breakfast that day. And another for dessert. By the time Raoul woke up, I was half drunk already. I was heading back to Dallas that day, and Raoul would be driving, so…
We moved all the excess mattresses into my room, then went to the little diner again, then headed for Dallas. I have no recollection of this trip. But Raoul safely delivered me to Dallas and Michael and Hillary’s apartment.
Raoul didn’t want to come up to the apartment. He just wanted to get back to the base and sleep.
“It’s been great, man.” I said, hugging him. He was one of the best, truest friends I’ve ever had.
“If you stay in Dallas, let me know, amigo. Maybe Shelly and I will come visit you.”
It was the last time I ever saw him.
* * * *
The mood in the apartment was noticeably different when I walked in. Hillary’s ex-boyfriend, George, had won his lawsuit against Hillary for their disputed possessions. Did I know about the lawsuit? I wondered. If I did, I hadn’t given it much thought.
Michael was sullen and aloof, and numbed out by ‘ludes. Hillary was livid! She was pissed beyond reasoning, and she was just getting started.
And to top it off, most of the pot I had smuggled into Texas was gone!
“Oh, I sold some of it while you were gone.” Shorty explained. “You brought so much of it, and I was running low on cash.”
I was initially irritated, but I got over it quickly. There was no way I was going to try to smuggle any dope back to Minnesota, so Shorty had actually done me a favor, and we still had enough weed to keep us high for the reminder of the week. I was running low on cash too, so I asked Shorty for half the cash he made selling my pot. He got a kind of sheepish look on his face, and handed me a twenty dollar bill.
“Where’s the rest of it?”
“I kinda spent the rest… We went out, and I started buying drinks…” I would later find out Martha was one of the people in the group Shorty went out with, and he wanted to greatly impress her.
Shorty had sold about five ounces of weed while I was gone. He had to have made at least two hundred bucks from his transactions, and he gave me twenty bucks. I shook my head, wondering if I should kill him now, or wait and make it look like an accident. I had about fifty bucks in my wallet. Shorty had less than me. And we weren’t leaving until the following Monday.
Eight more days, not much more than eighty bucks between us. It was going to be a long week.